Gloria: The importance of having the disability of deaf-blindness “checked” in the IEP

03/02/2011 12:29

by Gloria Rodriguez-Gil, Educational Specialist

As I was preparing for a couple of presentations on deaf-blindness (i.e., definition, characteristics, challenges, etc.), I was reminded of the fact that the great majority of the students who are deaf-blind have additional disabilities, more than 90% according to the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness Practice Perspective titled Children Who Are Deaf-Blind. Consequently, these students would be classified in their IEPs under the category of multiple disabilities.

Under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), a student is considered deaf-blind if their only disabilities are visual and hearing impairments; if the student has additional disabilities he or she would be considered as having multiple disabilities. The fact that students who are deaf-blind may be categorized only as multiply disabled in their IEPs may be a disservice to this population because this assessment may hide the critical fact that they are also deaf-blind. As a result, the unique challenges of deaf-blindness may not be addressed in their IEPs.

The term deaf-blindness may imply that the student is profoundly deaf and totally blind, but most of the students with deaf-blindness have some degree of vision and/or hearing. As stated in Children Who Are Deaf-Blind, this population has the following characteristics: 1) varying degrees of vision and hearing losses, 2) the type and severity differ from child to child, and 3) the combination of losses limits access to auditory and visual information.

For children with typical vision and hearing, these senses are vital for learning, communication, and accessing physical and social environments that the school community provides. Vision and hearing are the two main senses for accessing and gathering information, so if the student cannot detect, or has difficulties detecting information, they cannot take advantage of what the school has to offer.

So, it is fundamental that students who are deaf-blind with multiple disabilities have the disability of deaf-blindness included on their IEPs. This is important so that goals, adaptations, supports, services provided, and placement issues address the student’s unique needs. These needs may be in the areas of communication, curricular adaptations, orientation and mobility, and social and emotional development.

The solution may be to mark “deaf-blindness” on a student’s IEP, either as the primary or secondary disability. For example, in the case of a student with deaf-blindness and multiple disabilities that I serve, his IEP states that deaf-blindness is his primary disability, with the following secondary disabilities noted: mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impaired. (Note: the names of the disabilities written in this paragraph are the ones listed on the student’s IEP.)

Have you found other solutions? Do you think including in the IEP the disability of deaf-blindness as one of the disabilities may help the team to address the unique needs of the student with deaf-blindness?


Children Who Are Deaf-Blind
Provides details about the population of children who are deaf-blind, including the classification of vision and hearing loss, the types of additional disabilities that may be present, and the causes of deafblindness. Vignettes and photos of four children who are deaf-blind illustrate the diversity of this unique group of children. Information from the population is drawn from annual child count data reported in The National Deaf-Blind Child Count: 1998–2005 in Review.

Overview on Deaf-Blindness
This overview provides fundamental information on deaf-blindness. Topics include causes, challenges, communication, orientation and mobility, education, transition, and family issues. The fact sheet is written for all audiences, especially parents, and professionals new to the field. Agency resources are listed and selected readings are referenced.

Note: The annotated bibliographies describing the two resources were taken from DB Info Services.

The federal definitions of disability categories are included in section 300.8 of the IDEA 2004 regulations. The regulations can be found at


Topic: The importance of having the disability of deaf-blindness “checked” in the IEP

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That's not true Joe. Adding deafblind as a secondary eligibility allows the IEP team to add deafblind modifications and accommodations. Many school districts add deafblind as primary and that causes a problem with placement. Many deafblind students have multiple impairments and their lack of communication is due to their inability to process and acquire a formal mode of communication. This means braille and sign language may not be the best modes. Many deafblind and multiple impaired students use augmentative communication devices; i.e. single button switches to communicate, tactile symbols, pictures.